Benfica travelled to Germany to take on Bayern Munich for the First Leg of the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday night. Fresh from their impressive 5-1 humbling of 4th placed Braga on Friday and, having won their last eight games in all competitions, the Lisbon giants were hoping for a sound performance at the Allianz Arena. And with a return leg to take place at the Estádio da Luz next week, there was much to be had for Benfica if they could keep it tight.
Rui Vitória named an attack-minded line-up for this game, keeping faith with the starting XI which beat Braga. Jonas partnered Kostas Mitroglou up top while Renato Sanches and Ljubomir Fejsa would occupy the central midfield. Ederson continued between the sticks in the absence of the injured Júlio César and 21-year-old Swedish international, Victor Lindelöf, continued to partner Jardel in the centre of defence. It was left to Eliseu and André Almeida to attempt to nullify the wide threat.
This game began with the inevitable as Bayern enjoyed the lion’s share of possession. And it wasn’t long before it bore fruits for the Germans. Bernat received the ball out on the left and the Spaniard had time and space to pick his spot with a cross which found the head of Arturo Vidal. The Chilean managed to get ahead of his marker, Eliseu, and head home powerfully past Ederson to make it 1-0 after just 2 minutes.
Bayern’s use of the with of the pitch was causing issues for Benfica’s full-backs and, on 10 minutes, Bayern were busy testing the Benfica rearguard again. This time the threat came from the right where Douglas Costa cut inside from a wide position. With Eliseu rapidly closing the Brazilian down, he released a low drive but this was comfortably dealt with by his compatriot, Ederson.
Benfica did manage to create their first half chance about 10 minutes later. André Almeida found himself with time to angle a cross from the right towards Kostas Mitroglou. The Greek striker, ironically brought up in Germany, tried to direct his header goalwards but ultimately was unable to trouble Manuel Neuer who watched it sail harmlessly wide.
Just moments later, Benfica found themselves on the back foot again as Bayern went on the attack. A clever piece of skill by Thiago saw him dink the ball over the top of the Benfica defence from the edge of the box. With the back four playing for offside, Thomas Müller took advantage and snuck around the back. With the German international in space, he opted to take the shot on by way of a first-time volley which was well saved by Ederson. Benfica were living dangerously.
On the half hour, Benfica saw a spell of possession which culminated in finding Nico Gaitán on the left. His low ball into the Bayern box was blocked by the arm of the diving Philipp Lahm. Gaitán appealed for a penalty but play was waved on and the Argentine retrieved the loose ball, teeing up Eliseu for a fierce drive from outside the box. The left-back’s effort sailed well over the bar.
Ederson was having a busy first half and had already distinguished himself when he was called into action again on 33 minutes. After Ljubomir Fejsa had fouled Franck Ribéry on the edge of the box, the free-kick was taken by Thiago. The Spanish international conjured up another beautifully weighted dink over the Benfica wall and Thomas Müller again stole in behind the rearguard. Fortunately for the Lisbon side, Ederson was again down quickly, this time at the feet the German. The stand-in stopper was proving his worth.
There was still time for another good Bayern chance before the break. Arturo Vidal was again the beneficiary as Thomas Müller turned provider. His cross from the right found the head of the Chilean who had got in between Lindelöf and Almeida in the middle. Fortunately for Benfica, Vidal could only head the ball downwards into the turf and the momentum forced it to bound up and over the bar to keep the status quo.
Despite Bayern continuing to enjoy possession at the beginning of the second half, the first real chance after the break went to the visitors. Jonas made a nuisance of himself in the Bayern box and managed to create space for himself by turning Bayern defender, David Alaba. The Brazilian then got his shot away but it was blocked by Neuer in what was a golden opportunity for Benfica.
There was worse to come for Jonas just moments later when he received a yellow card for a foul on Arturo Vidal in the middle third. The booking means that Benfica’s top scorer this season will miss the return leg in Lisbon next week.
Jonas was again involved on 64 minutes with possibly Benfica’s best chance of the game. A low cross into the box from André Almeida found Jonas with space but his shot was blocked by Bayern substitute, Javi Martínez. The rebound then found its ways back to Jonas again but this time he fired well over the bar in what can be considered a real let off for the hosts.
As the German fans’ frustrations began to grow, Bayern had to wait until 81 minutes for a real sight on goal in the second half. Franck Ribery again caused problems on the left, this time employing trickery to evade the challenges of Almeida and Gaitán Working his way into the box at pace, the Frenchman unleashed a low shot towards the near post but Ederson was equal to it once more.
And just before the end of normal time, Bayern had possibly their best chance to wrap it up. A superb through ball by Vidal caught the Benfica defence flat-footed. Robert Lewandowski ran in behind and tried to slip the ball back across goal for Philipp Lahm. The Pole’s pass was overhit and the chance was gone as Lahm struggled to keep the ball from reaching the byline.
On A Knife Edge
And so Benfica go into the second leg on home turf next Wednesday with just the one goal deficit to overturn. If you'd offered that to any Benfiquista before tonight, they'd surely have taken it. They had to be patient for the most part, Bayern seeing 68% of possession over the first leg. However, the Lisbon side caused problems for Bayern at times tonight and, even without Jonas, will fancy that they can get at the Bayern rearguard.
The central defensive pairing of Jardel and Lindelöf were superb for Benfica in Munich. The second half was especially strong from the back four as they looked to snuff out the wide threats of Ribery and Costa. They also managed to keep the prolific Robert Lewandowski quiet. But special mention must also go to Ederson who was superb in goal and was Benfica's saviour in the first half, especially.
There will doubtless be a full house at the Luz next week and the Benfiquista's will create a hostile atmosphere for Munich to come into. Munich are a top side but it's a brave person who bets against this Benfica team this season...
by Paul Gellard